There's really no good news about a recession, but if you really hate your commute (and you're not one of the millions of Americans out of work) at least traffic congestion subsides a bit. We don't know about you, but we'd rather see a strong economy even if it means a bit more cars on the road, and a new study by traffic and navigation services INRIX shows that may be what's happening.

The INRIX study shows modest improvements in traffic congestion as the country pulls out of its economic downturn. In 2008, traffic dropped off quite a bit from the all-time highs of 2007 due mostly to the recession coupled with $4 per gallon gasoline. The latest data for 2009 shows that four of the 10 most congested cites in the U.S. showed increased traffic in 2009, as drivers in New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia all felt a bit more pain. Houston traffic actually decreased in 2009, as the Texas city dropped from fourth to sixth on the list of most congested cities. The areas with an at least a 10 percent increase in traffic congestion are Las Vegas, Baltimore and D.C. So in other words, gambling and lobbying likely increased in 2009.

The federal government's stimulus projects are also affecting traffic congestion. The INRIX study shows that construction projects have led to 25 percent higher traffic congestion during off-peak hours, and the majority of projects are courtesy of stimulus funds.

Hit the jump to read over the INRIX press release, which includes the top 10 most congested cities and the 10 biggest highway bottlenecks in the country. If you live in New York, you probably already know that five of the top 10 bottlenecks are in your neck of the woods, and if you typically travel on the Cross Bronx Expressway/I-95 Southbound at the Bronx River Parkway you don't even want to look.

[Source: INRIX | Image: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]


Traffic Congestion Returns as Economy Shows Signs of Recovery According to INRIX National Traffic Scorecard
Study Shows Recession Reset Traffic Congestion Levels Back at least Five Years; 2010 Outlook Depends on Jobs

INRIX®, a leading provider of traffic and navigation services, today released its 3rd Annual INRIX National Traffic Scorecard revealing that traffic congestion and commute travel times in 2009 are back on the rise as the economy emerges from the recession. The 150-page free report is available at

Gridlock across the U.S. bottomed out in March and April 2009 and congestion levels have begun to bounce back ending the year slightly ahead of 2008. In fact, 58 of the top 100 most populated cities in the U.S. experienced modest increases in traffic congestion levels last year. Over the course of 2009, increases in traffic from lower than average fuel prices (nearly $1 less per gallon than 2008) and a recovering economy slightly outpaced drops in commuting from the loss of over 5 million jobs. While unemployment kept morning commutes lighter than normal, traffic was up nearly every other hour of the day as individuals hit the roads in search of work or other trips – a 25 percent increase.

"So goes traffic, so goes the economy. The results suggest the holiday from increasing gridlock we've experienced the past few years is over," said Bryan Mistele, INRIX president and CEO. "An excellent indicator of economic trends, traffic congestion can tell us whether businesses are shipping products, whether people are going to work, and whether shoppers are going to the mall. That said, our analysis indicates that what happens going forward in terms of increasing gridlock, much like the economy, can be summed up in one word: Jobs."

By analyzing traffic on major highways in the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas, the Scorecard provides both a glimpse into the health of our economy as well as a comprehensive snapshot into the intractable issues of urban traffic congestion. According to the report, the top 10 most congested cities in 2009 were:

1. Los Angeles, Calif.
2. New York, N.Y.
3. Chicago, Ill.
4. Washington, D.C. (up from 6th in 2008)
5. Dallas, Texas
6. Houston, Texas (down from 4th in 2008)
7. San Francisco, Calif.
8. Boston, Mass.
9. Seattle, Wash.
10. Philadelphia, Pa. (up from 11th in 2008)

These cities account for half of our nation's traffic congestion with 4 of the Top 10 cities experiencing modest increases in traffic congestion in 2009 (L.A., New York, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.) Of the nation's top 30 largest cities, Las Vegas, Baltimore and D.C. experienced more than 10% increases in congestion during peak commute periods year-over-year. The increase in Las Vegas congestion was primarily due to major construction along I-15 that began in the Summer of 2008, while congestion in the nation's Capitol was indicative of a city bustling with activity as the federal government enacted policies and increased spending to combat the recession.

Other key INRIX National Traffic Scorecard findings include:
• Showing the after effects of a battered economy, 2009 congestion levels were still one-third less compared to peak levels set in 2007. While varying by region, on a national level, the clock on traffic congestion has been turned back to at least 2005 – a silver lining of the tumultuous past few years – for those who still have jobs.

• The nation's "Travel Time Tax" in 2009 was 8.9 percent, indicating the typical random peak hour trip took 8.9 percent longer than it would in uncongested conditions resulting in the typical urban commuter with a 30 minute commute sitting 22 hours a year stuck in traffic.

• Wednesday from 8 to 9 a.m. continues as the busiest morning peak travel time nationwide and Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. continues to be the busiest evening (and overall) commute hour – with a travel time tax of 18.8%
• The best day to commute is Monday with a Travel Time Tax of 7.1%; worst day is Thursday with a Travel Time Tax of 9.7%.

• Population centers experiencing high unemployment, reduced tourism and/or less convention activity, experienced the highest drops in traffic congestion including Detroit, Honolulu, San Diego, and Chicago. Detroit, where the jobless rate reached a high of 17 percent in 2009, dropped from 18th to 27th in the rankings.

• Los Angeles has the nation's highest metropolitan travel times during peak commute hours, followed closely by Honolulu, Washington D.C. and San Francisco

• The worst region and time to be on our nation's roads is between 5 and 6 p.m. on Thursdays in Los Angeles where the travel time tax is 69%!

• Philadelphia made the Top 10 for the first time (up from 11th) replacing Minneapolis which dropped to 12th (likely due to the I-35W bridge reopening)

• Stimulus spending on road projects nationwide is starting to have an impact on congestion, particularly in off-peak periods. Delays across the country during off-peak periods – mid-days, evenings, overnights and weekends –were up 25 percent. Of the nation's biggest new work zone slowdowns in late 2009, more than half were directly tied to stimulus projects.

• More than 2500 miles of our nation's most important roads are congested more than 5 hours each week. Drivers on more than 437 miles of these roads experience more than 20 hours of congestion each week, or 4 hours each work day.
The Nation's Worst Bottlenecks

INRIX also analyzed and ranked the worst metro traffic bottlenecks across the country and found that New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago continued to dominate the rankings in commuting nightmares. Westbound on the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95) at the Bronx River Parkway in New York City remains the worst bottleneck in the nation, where traffic crawls more than 94 hours each week at an average of only 11.4 MPH. According to the report, the Top 10 worst traffic bottlenecks nationwide were:

1. New York: The Cross Bronx Expressway/I-95 Southbound at the Bronx River Parkway
2. Chicago: I-90 Westbound at Cermak Rd. (up from 7th in 2008)
3. New York: Cross Bronx Expressway at I-895 (up from 5th in 2008)
4. New York: Cross Bronx Expressway at White Plains Road (up from 5th in 2008)
5. New York: Harlem River Drive Southbound at 3rd Ave. (down from 2nd in 2008)
6. New Haven, CT: I-91 Southbound at Hamilton St. (up from 62nd in 2008)
7. Los Angeles: US-101 North bound at Los Angeles St.(up from 13th in 2008)
8. Chicago: I-90 Westbound at 18th St. (up from 24th in 2008)
9. New York: Cross Bronx Expressway at Westchester Ave. (up from 11th)
10. Chicago: I-90 Westbound at Ruble St.(up from 26th in 2008)

This biggest mover into the Top 10 was the 6th ranked bottleneck, I-91 SB at Hamilton Street in New Haven, CT. This segment moved up from 62nd last year and leads into the work zone of the I-95 New Haven Harbor Crossing Corridor project. One of last year's Top 10 dropped way down the rankings, was in the San Francisco Bay area, where restriping expanded the exit ramp between I-580 WB and US 101 NB in Marin County from one to two lanes in a work zone, and as a result an upstream segment of I-580 WB that approached and included Bellam Boulevard, saw significantly less congestion, dropping from 4th in 2008 to 491st.

Turning Insight into Intelligence and Taking Action
The Annual INRIX Traffic Scorecard is based on analysis of raw data from INRIX' own historical traffic database generated by the company's Smart Driver Network of more than 1.6 million vehicles traveling the roads everyday including taxis, airport shuttles, service delivery vans, long haul trucks as well as consumer vehicles and mobile devices. Each data report from these GPS-equipped vehicles and devices includes the speed, location and heading of a particular vehicle at a reported date and time. With the nation's largest probe vehicle network, INRIX generates the most comprehensive and timely congestion analyses to date, covering the largest 100 metropolitan areas and all of the nation's major highways, interstates and limited access roads.

INRIX is committed to working with its partners and customers to better understand the many issues that can affect the flow of traffic and provide consumers, businesses and the public sector with solutions for addressing these problems. INRIX has partnered with MapQuest, a wholly owned subsidiary of AOL, Inc., to provide additional insights and tips for saving time as well as ways to effectively handle a commute. For more information and details, please visit the MapQuest blog at Available for free as a public service from INRIX, the INRIX National Traffic Scorecard is the definitive source on traffic congestion. The report is the first of its kind to rank and provide detailed information on the 100 most congested U.S. metropolitan areas and the 100 worst traffic bottlenecks. For more information about traffic in your city or to see the complete National Traffic Scorecard, visit: and to view videos about the report go to

INRIX® is a leading provider of highly accurate traffic and navigation services, with more than 90 customers and industry partners including the Ford Motor Company, TomTom, MapQuest, Microsoft, NAVIGON AG, TeleNav, I-95 Corridor Coalition, Tele Atlas, deCarta, ITIS Holdings, TCS, Telmap, ANWB and ADAC. INRIX's strategic partnership with Clear Channel Radio and Total Traffic Network extends the delivery of the highest quality data and broadest coverage available for personal navigation, mapping, telematics and other location-based service applications in the car, online and on mobile devices.
INRIX Traffic Services leverage sophisticated statistical analysis techniques, originally developed by Microsoft Research, to aggregate and enhance traffic-related information from hundreds of public and private sources, including traditional road sensors and the company's unique network of more than 1.6 million GPS-enabled vehicles and cellular devices. INRIX delivers highly accurate real-time and historical traffic information today for 16 countries across North America and Europe. To experience the traffic technology revolution behind the next generation of navigation and location-based service applications, visit or follow us on Twitter at

Share This Photo X